Naturally, I was a bit worried. My father had taught me to keep my right foot in the middle of the lane, obviously not good advice when you are positioned on the right side of the car. In the days leading up to the trip, I adopted a pretend air of confidence. I felt it was necessary amidst my mother’s cries of, “You’re so brave! Think how dangerous it will be!” I had to feign indifference. Anxious? Me? Not at all. Preposterous!
Except I was nervous. They use kilometers in Europe for goodness-sakes! Me and the metric system were already a poor fit, and then add driving “wrong” (for lack of a better term) to the mix, and I was almost sure that accounts of my accidental death would be broadcast all over the globe.
But, all of my fears were unfounded. Besides a little awkward lane positioning thanks to my father’s training, there was a certain freedom in driving in Ireland. I drove from Dublin to Galway, my little red car bouncing and bounding over the concrete ribbons of road. It was strange to be sure, but exciting too, like the first time you drive without a parent in the car and experience the pleasure of controlling something dangerous. The feeling was heightened by the smallness of the vehicle, like taking the speed governor off a golf cart and zipping down the highway at speeds that feel faster because they’re in kilometers, not miles. 120 km per hour! It just sounds like a rush, doesn’t it?
The real driving, however, took place when we left Galway. We drove south along the western coast of the Emerald Isle, where modern highways and smooth surfaces turned into a road that wasn’t wide enough for two vehicles, not even mini European models. The good news was that most drivers stick to the inland road. But how much is missed when we do not take the road less traveled (literally)?
This road wound and coiled around the coast, a starker and more mysterious version of the coastal roads in Italy or in southern France. On one side, the vast Atlantic Ocean, on the other side, the Burren – 250 square km of varied flora and fauna amidst craggy outcrops of limestone. It was a sight to behold. The Burren remains much as it always has, bravely standing up to the sea, indifferent to tourists and other motorists who pass her by. On both sides of the roadway are rough, picturesque limestone fences. It was easy to imagine them being built, hand over hand, rock over rock, a futile attempt to tame the wildness of this West Country place.
When our day’s drive ended at the 18th-century country Manor House where we were staying, we were filled with an odd peace. Driving here was an adventure in itself, filled with its own stresses and caution. But as I stepped out of the car, I felt that I had discovered a secret part of Ireland: one that only those who take that winding and scenic, yet treacherous path can understand. New viewpoints lie in wait in this winding and sometimes treacherous world, looking to be discovered and understood … and making me appreciate the plain sense of American roads all the more. ♦